Ted Jeory is good with numbers.
Better, in fact, than probably most journalists in the trade thanks to a lucrative nine-year career in the City as a top accountant, which saw him mind the books for some serious blue-chip firms.
The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants gave him a worldwide prize for a business law exam during a career that took in stints at JP Morgan, oil company Mobil as well as a Russian oil firm, and saw him help set up mobile phone brand ‘3″. He earned close to £80,000 a year.
But then, aged 33, he quit. Disillusioned with his job, he set off cycling with his brother across Spain for six months, before returning to England and enrolling on the six-month NCTJ preliminary course in Harlow, affirming a life-long ‘obsession’with news.
Now he is the reigning Regional Press Awards Reporter of the Year (Weeklies) and his paper, the East London Advertiser, is the weeklies Newspaper of the Year.
Speaking in a cafe in Bethnal Green, in the heart of his East London patch and a stone’s throw from both his flat and office, Jeory, now 38, says he has no regrets over turning his back on financial success.
‘I was in my early 30s and had done a bit of student journalism at Nottingham University and always fancied giving it a crack,’he says. ‘You don’t want to get to 40 and think ‘I wish I’d done that’; I thought I had to make the leap then.
‘I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the numbers; I’ve got an economics background and was involved in sales analysis and so on. But I wasn’t getting any satisfaction and fulfillment from adding to the world in any sense. It was all to do with making money and profit.”
After graduating from Harlow in 2003, he was taken on by Archant’s East Anglian Daily Times, commuting from Bow in East London to its Colchester office. Although he had a ‘cushion’from his time in the City, his salary as junior reporter was around £12,500.
An early enthusiast for the Freedom of Information Act, Jeory made a name for producing unusual exclusives and investigations, often using council facts and figures – and, of course, company reports.
In September 2005 he moved to the East London Advertiser, another Archant title, just after current editor Malcolm Starbrook joined.
Both Starbrook and Jeory decided early on to scrutinise local democracy as much as possible. He says: ‘No one was really covering Tower Hamlets Council at that time and they were getting a fairly easy ride from the press.
‘We came in and said let’s roll up our sleeves and attend as many council meetings as possible, and that’s what I’ve done. And people really care: everyone gets letters from readers but they don’t get titbits; we get proper readers who are genuinely interested in what’s going on.”
Jeory’s familiarity with numbers and spreadsheets has given him a distinct advantage in the newsroom. After one council cabinet meeting, where Jeory spent 30 minutes quizzing Town Hall bean-counters ‘like an auditor would”, Tower Hamlets’ finance director offered him a job.
‘I don’t know if he genuinely meant it but he respected that I knew what I was talking about,’says Jeory. ‘People’s eyes normally glaze over when they see company accounts. Especially with the credit crunch, these stories are going to become more and more important.”
In August last year, Jeory uncovered the fraudulent activities of First Solutions Money Transfer, a company offering to send many thousands of pounds from local people back to their families in Bangladesh – but in many cases the money never arrived. The company had serious ‘cash-flow’problems, but posing as a potential customer Jeory found it was still taking more than £50,000 a day in deposits.
‘I knew they were trading illegally and I knew the insolvency practitioners. Journalists do use company accounts and things but I really know how to read them.”
London’s multicultural and comparatively socially-deprived East End, with its lively local politics, high crime rates and the 2012 Olympics on its way, is what most reporters would say is a good news patch.
Jeory even suggests there is enough news in the area for national newspapers to have their own East End correspondent. But it is not, he warns, a part of the world a reporter can ‘dip a toe into’occasionally and fully understand.
‘You have reporters come down occasionally to have a look and they have no idea what is going on. It is completely different here,’he says.
He writes a weekly column – Trial by Jeory – that holds local politicians to account by name, and asks why councillors’ promises have not been met.
Another story that impressed the Regional Press Awards’ judges was one involving Tower Hamlets’ plans to dig up hundreds of remains in an historic Bethnal Green cemetery and reopen it as a multifaith cemetery – without telling the families of the dead. Within weeks, after the nationals had picked up the story, the council leader had invited Jeory in to say the plan was being scrapped.
His third story submitted for the awards told the tale of 57-year-old Canon Michael Ainsworth of St George-in-the-East church in Shadwell, an Anglican vicar who in March was badly beaten in the churchyard by two Asian boys. It was portrayed in several national papers – much to the churchman’s disgust – as a ‘faith hate’attack by Muslims on a Christian vicar.
But in Jeory’s exclusive interview Ainsworth appealed for calm and said it was not a racially or religiously motivated attack, but simply another example of violent crime in London.
‘Everyone was wanting this to be a [hate crime] but my instinct was that this was a couple of drunken yobs who were pissed off because he asked them to keep quiet and they used the dog collar as an insult,’says Jeory.
‘We know the area, we know the patch, we did the responsible thing and reported the story rather than inflamed things.”
As if uncovering dark secrets of the East End was not enough to keep him busy, Jeory has also been news editing at the Sunday Express on a freelance basis for four years.
Though he has cut down from three nights a week, he now still works until midnight on Saturdays. Two of his frequent FoI requests – both into the expenses of BBC staff – have made the front-page splashes in that paper.
Colleagues often ask Jeory if he would ever leave journalism to put his numeracy skills to more profitable use. ‘I don’t regret it at all, it was the best decision I ever made,’he says. ‘I am in a fortunate position of changing things and also that classic thing of helping people and exposing rottenness.
‘Would I go back? No, I don’t think I would. Sometimes I think about the money when I want a decent holiday somewhere, but overall there’s no way in the world.”